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Troy’s Crock Pot: New Villains for New Campaigns

A new year calls for a new campaign. And a new campaign means devising a new villain.

It’s the perfect time for a GM to shine. Is there a better test than coming up with an NPC who stands in complete opposition to what your players stand for?

For inspiration I checked out my collection of Dragon back issues. The last issue published under Paizo, No. 359 from September 2007, includes a list of the 20 greatest villains from D&D lore. Categorizing the best of them should provide interesting templates for the enterprising GMs when coming up with their own.

He’s baaaaack

Manshoon and his clones are the Count Blofeld of the D&D universe. Variations of the same villain who returns again and again — regardless of whether he was killed in previous encounters —  leaves the PCs scratching their heads. “Won’t he die?”  The trick is to be aware of when the players tire of this approach. Even James Bond eventually got the best of Blofeld.

Home turf

Eli Tomorast and Acererak are examples of villains tied closely to the dungeons they inhabit. In this case, Maure Castle and the Tomb of Horrors, respectively. The key is coming up with a bad guy that fits diabolically with the dungeon you devise.  Tomorast is the Seeker gone bad and Acererak just wanted to create a deathtrap of epic proportions. If the players think of the villain and dungeon as one, then you’ve earned your black hat.

An army of followers

Demogorgon and Kyuss were the principle foes of two adventure paths. The thing with such expanded campaigns is the need to have an array of vile loyalists to overcome at each level.  This is the most demanding template for a GM, because you not only have to come up with an epic-level villain — but all the stepping stones needed to be overcome along the way. But if your players stick with it — oh what a payoff!

The Undead Keep on Marching Home

D&D players love their undead. Lord Soth and Count Strahd of Ravenloft infamy are perhaps the most well-known of a long list of mastermind mummies, vampires and liches to plague the world. Really, can you go wrong with undead?

Monsters are villains too

The more alien, the better. What else can explain the popularity of the Cthulu-inspired creepy things? Eclavdra was the first and worst of lot of truly devious drow. But frankly, any humanoid capable of devising plans has a place at the table. The Ogre mage and the hobgoblin with character levels can be just as challenging as anything with tentacles.

So, what kinds of new villains have got cooked up for the new year? If you can share without spoilers for your game table, I’d love to hear what you’ve got cooking.

15 Comments (Open | Close)

15 Comments To "Troy’s Crock Pot: New Villains for New Campaigns"

#1 Comment By Saragon On January 15, 2009 @ 8:47 am

Obviously I can’t claim credit for any stock villain in the Eberron setting, but the 4E Eberron game I plan to run this year will have one of two villains – the Lord of Blades or the Dreaming Dark.

For those unfamiliar with Eberron, these two entities are absolutely fascinating. The Lord of Blades is, depending on who you talk to: A madman claiming absolute and near-religious loyalty from his followers; a freedom fighter creating a new home for the warforged; a dangerously charismatic general building an army; or a monstrous murderer who’s spent too much time in the Mournland. In reality, he’s all of these – a delightfully complicated villain with goals the PCs might sympathize with, but whose methods are abhorrent.

The Dreaming Dark is the collective consciousness of another plane that has conquered one part of Eberron already, essentially holding an entire continent in psychic thralldom. Yet their ambassadors to their neighbors are welcome in all courts, bringing gifts and assistance – they are masters of the insidious, slow, careful subversion of the powerful.

I’ve no idea which one I’d prefer to play with – my group doesn’t have any real experience with 3E psionics, so the Dreaming Dark may be a little exotic for them depending on how 4E Eberron handles the transition. But I’ve got a while to think about it, really.

#2 Comment By Swordgleam On January 15, 2009 @ 9:02 am

My game has only had one actual villain so far, and the players will confront her within the next two sessions. She requires a little backstory – the campaign world is post-apocalyptic, and unbeknownst to the PCs (alll but one of whom are younger than the 20-year-old apocalpyse) the end of the world was triggered when humans sought to become gods, using advanced technology.

This threw the existing gods into disarray, and Torog went from becoming a lawful good god of oaths and protection to the a torn, insane god of torture and imprisonment. One of the party is a paladin of Torog, who is striving to bring his god back to the side of good while following his new, evil directives. The villain is a paladin of Torog who is taking the opposite approach – stealing his power, and seeking to turn him even more evil as she raises an army of fanatical goblins.

So, that should be fun. Our paladin got a royal beatdown in the last encounter when he, not knowing the nature of the goblins’ leader, declared, “I am a Paladin of Torog and you will serve me!” The ranger had known all along about the villain, but hadn’t told anyone, because she assumed the paladin knew, and didn’t want him to know that she knew that he knew, because “That’s exactly the kind of thing he wouldn’t tell us!”

I love my party. Who needs enemies when you have friends like those?

#3 Comment By peter On January 15, 2009 @ 9:07 am

I described the lord of blades yesterday in my game to the players as: someone who thinks that warforged are the only perfect living beings, and thus should break free from their slavery and rule over all the imperfect creatures. the follower of the lord of blades they encountered was a petty hatemonger blaming the breathers for all that went wrong in the world

the main villain in my eberron campaign is the blood of vol and their schemes to try controlling a daelkyr.

the blood of vol is a secret organization, lead by the lich Vol, that also poses as a religion.
the daelkyr are the rullers of the plane of madness.

#4 Comment By Scott Martin On January 15, 2009 @ 11:24 am

The Dwarf King is a horrifically powerful mage who has conquered kingdoms, encouraged the creation of a subject race, and rules with an iron thumb. He and his followers use demonic allies to maintain their control and to terrorize conquered peasants.

#5 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On January 15, 2009 @ 11:36 am

Last campaign: The campaign ended before the party could discover…

Oh, sorry. Can’t tell you that part.

The campaign was in the Yeomanry, and borrowed a bit from the Living Greyhawk development of the country (although not from the adventures). The recurring BBEGs were the Scarlet Brotherhood (who wanted many of the artifacts their ancestors left in the Yeomanry) and Tharizdun (the God of Entropy, who is imprisoned and cannot act directly, but embraces all of those who seek to destroy things, or are a bit touched in the head).

Next campaign: I’m not entirely sure. I tend to like having multiple BBEGs, so we’ll see where it goes.

#6 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On January 15, 2009 @ 12:31 pm

Swordgleam: That ranger sounds like a lot of someones I know …

Saragon/Peter: I was never truly certain, in reading the Eberron campaign book, whether the Lord of Blades was really the villain everyone thinks he is. Certainly, he is a bad act on the battlefield — no doubt about that — but he seems to be an adversary with a worthy goal: personal freedom for the warforged. That alone would make an interesting campaign, to be sure, but I wavered on classifying him as a villain. (Now, the entire nation of Karrnath, on the other hand …)

Scott: Evil dwarf. Speaking as a gnome myself, I can only say, of course the dwarf is the villain. The whole lot are covetous little bastards. Sounds like a great concept.

Kurt: Using the Scarlet Brotherhood, means, I assume, that your campaign is not rated PG.

#7 Comment By Saragon On January 15, 2009 @ 4:16 pm

Troy E. Taylor – You’re right that the Lord of Blades is occasionally hard to classify as a “villain”, at least in the archetypical Bond Villain way. If I remember the ECS correctly, however, he preaches not just the freedom of the warforged, but the superiority of the warforged, which in turn excuses a great many atrocities. Like I said before, players and PCs – especially warforged PCs – could certainly sympathize with some of his goals; but as I understand the L.O.B., it’d be practically impossible for a party of good-alignment PCs to not oppose him as he is.

Karrnath is in some ways even trickier. Sharn: City of Towers had a great sidebar on the Blood of Vol as a religion, suggesting a very complex religion for most of its lay followers. (Seriously, go read it. It’s really, really good.) They believe their religion truly offers some sort of existence after death – and that’s something the Nine can’t offer. The undead servitors of Vol are in some ways less complicated – they often don’t really believe Vol a goddess, and the religion they work within is in many ways simply a scam for blood, flesh and fresh bodies. Yet Karrnath’s ruler, Kaius III (a vampire himself), ruthlessly opposes Vol, creating an interesting division between secular and religious power in Karrnath. It’s a strange, dark parallel to the Reformation, at least as it happened in England.

#8 Comment By Saragon On January 15, 2009 @ 4:55 pm

Troy reminding me of Karrnath has in turn subsequently reminded me of another villain I thought up for Eberron – this one original. He’s not seen playtime yet and might never show up; and as one of Vol’s trusted lieutenants, rather than a primary actor himself, I’m not even sure he qualifies for this discussion. But he’s no fun if he’s not shared around!

Ambar Grimwind has lived for centuries. He’s not undead, not exactly, but he sustains himself on the lifeblood of others as surely as any vampire. By killing the most powerful threats to Vol, Ambar also sustains himself, each bloody murder granting him another year of life and renewed vigor [10 levels in the Thief of Life prestige class from Faiths of Eberron. Rules can inspire too, sometimes.] He tends to work alone, and to strike quickly and repeatedly in close combat, then hiding again before anyone can react; but his authority is such that he can command almost any resources he requires from the Blood of Vol. [Scout levels and a few bent rules to up his threat level. He’s as close to a ‘Solo’ encounter for a party as a 3rd Edition humanoid can manage.]

Ambar is one of Vol’s best assassins, and (quite disturbingly) her lover as well; the dark gifts the lich queen has granted him make him immune to her deadly flesh. Ambar’s unnatural favor is such that he can safely weather Vol’s fury after one of his rare failures. Ultimately, he endures in his position because he is competent, yet irrevocably dependent upon Vol – he cannot betray her without seeing his peculiarly extended lifespan cease. Because he is still a living mortal, however, he is guileful in ways most undead – even Vol – cannot be. Ambar may be personally responsible for the dearth of epic-level characters in Khorvaire: His powers require that he slay the most powerful of Vol’s foes, and he quickly cuts down any who rise too high above the masses.

Ambar is frightening to a player group largely because he’s a living, breathing human who wields great power and authority amongst the undead, without any visible necromantic power of his own. He’s unpredictable, being both extremely clever and without motivation of his own – attempts to guess what he might do are invariably wrong, because the real question is “What would Vol have him do?”. Ambar wouldn’t be the ultimate villain of a Blood of Vol-centered campaign, but there’s no question my group would cheer when they finally cut him down for good.

#9 Comment By Swordgleam On January 15, 2009 @ 4:57 pm

[1] – To be fair, it IS exactly the sort of thing the paladin wouldn’t have told them. The fighter started getting visions, and he didn’t tell anyone. The cleric gets messages from the Raven Queen, and only tells people about them half the time. And the warlock went several sessions before inadvertantly letting slip that he was a doppelganger. No one in this party gives away any information they don’t have to.

#10 Comment By zencorners On January 16, 2009 @ 8:18 am

[2] – I always kept the Lord of Blades more neutral, and had him surrounded by fanatics that used him as a figure head. This way there would be some ambiguity for my players to decide upon.

My best villians have always been the ones the players have chosen as enemies. In a Vampire: Dark Ages game, I set the players up in Prague during a very big split between the four factions vying for control, as well as other interested parties.

The party was stuck between alienating one faction (the Tremere) because the Prince of the City (Brujah) was “in love” with a murderer (Tzimsce diabolist). Or doing there job and potentially uncovering a plot by the Gangrel, Toreador and Nosferatu to overthrow the Prince and disgrace the Tremere… All the while, the party was seeking alliances with the Tremere.

#11 Comment By Symbolis On January 16, 2009 @ 7:38 pm

Unrelated(sorta?): [3]

#12 Comment By The Stray7 On January 19, 2009 @ 4:11 am

There are several major villains of our 4e game. Some, the party knows about, but there are a few who they have yet to meet.

The party has recently killed Tayce, a shadowy assassin who was one of those bad-penny foes who kept popping up and running away. however, they have unleashed the psychotic shadow spirit that gave him his powers. The spirit has the same general type of abilities (mobile lurker with darkness powers) but a wildly different personality and divergent goals. The PCs will still have the same sort of goal when facing him: protect whoever his target happens to be, while searching for a way to end his threat.

Tayce’s former mistress, Mistress Mai’ali Nightwound, is one of several incarnations of a slain goddess. She got some of the more insane bits of the goddess’s soul, which turned her into a grade-A whackjob. Her main goal is seducing the head of a local temple to gain access to its extensive library and gain leads on where the rest of the goddess’ peices might be, so she can put them back together and become all-powerful. One problem hampering her is that one of the piece of the souls she already found, is rebelling against her control, giving her a split personality. Naturally, this personality is a member of the party.

Gerard LeVaine is a vampire lord who is posing as a doctor. Using this guise he “heals” the poor, turning them into spawn and building an army right under the nose of the town watch. He has corrupted the local church of the Raven Lord, which now serves him and his goals. His plan is to ruin the names of the churches around town, in order to shake the faith of people in their gods, and thus weaken the gods themselves to a point they can be destroyed.

Our Lady Wynowill is an Eladrin queen who is planning a genocidal war of conquest against the country the campaign is set in. Her forces are marshaling in the Feywild, and her agents are working to weaken the government of the country under the guise of a secret society of rebellious do-gooders known as The White Fox Society.

Her main minions, the Wild Hunt, are an elite cadre of eladrin soldiers and wizards. They help her hunt down and destroy “fetch,” a derogatory term for doppelgangers, supposedly due to a genocidal race hatred stemming from the use of doppelgangers to topple a formerly vibrant Eladrin empire in the Feywild. In reality, Lady Wynowill destroys the doppelgangers because she fears that a prophetic dream that she had, in which a “faceless one” is instrumental in destroying all she has worked for, will come true.

#13 Comment By Bryan On January 21, 2009 @ 8:37 am

Hello all,

My 4E campaign is just getting started now, so I’m still in the world building (and villain building) stages. The main villains have all been more or less detailed:

Jamneiros Stoneheart a dwarven lord who was driven insane by reading some artifact runes he had cast. These runes had effectively opened up a channel to Rhannon, who will come later. The process had drained the color from his eyes, a characteristic of a magical plague that had attacked the homeland of one of the players and forced her to flee. The madness caused him to lose the ability to distinguish friend from foe, and he subsequently invited kobolds in to his halls and killed his fellow dwarves in the process. He was killed in the last game session, but could return as a future undead villain.

King of Telos, as yet unnamed, has become a servant of Rhannon in an as-of-yet undetermined way (was thinking that he ate too much conjured food, but that sounds a bit silly). Mainly created the villain for the opportunity for the shock value when the PCs finally meet the king and see the colorless eyes, connecting the events with the dwarven lord and the plague. He is planned as the climax villain of the heroic tier and will be introduced right when the PCs are going to him for help/to bring a lesser villain to justice.

Rhannon, an ancient mad god that was imprisoned under the ocean by his brother. Long since forgotten, he was accidentally released by an intrepid group of adventurers. However since gods operate on different levels as mortals, his release from imprisonment is taking place on a geological time scale and is taken the form of fragments of Rhannon infiltrating themselves into mortal life. The dwarven runes are one fragment of Rhannon, and the players will find other fragments as the game goes on.

Sadly, the players have not yet attempted to read the future using the newly discovered dwarven runes, but I’m crossing my fingers!

#14 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On January 21, 2009 @ 10:47 am

Stray7: A physician sounds like great cover for a vampire. It reminds me of the film “Time after Time,” when David Warner plays Jack the Ripper opposite Malcolm McDowell’s H.G. Wells, and the Ripper’s cover is a Whitehall physician.

Bryan: I love the flavor of Stoneheart, the mad dwarven lord. That’s exactly the kind of story flavor 4E needs.

#15 Comment By GribbletheMunchkin On April 28, 2009 @ 5:54 am

Great villains make the story.

One of my favourites was from an aberrant game. Diverging from the vanilla setting, in this campaign the characters were erupted by an accident at a partical accelerator (they were all guards). The professor running the accelerator became their mentor and helped them develop their powers while also seeking to understand how they work.

Eventually he recreated the explosion that erupted them to grant himself powers and from here slowly snk into believing that only by exposing everyone in the world to these powers could he avert a war againt humanity. Sadly 95% of people exposed to the type of radiation he used turned into horrific and mad monsters. Still, we went from mentor to evil genius. Perhaps his crowning acheivement was turning his science on the new york yankee stadium and turning the whole crowd into novas (5%) and monsters (95%). The betrayal by their old friend and mentor made capturing him so much important.

Good NPC. Very enjoyable to GM.